Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. Currently available GM foods stem mostly from plants, but in the future foods derived from GM microorganisms or GM animals are likely to be introduced on the market. Most existing genetically modified crops have been developed to improve yield through the introduction of resistance to plant diseases or of increased tolerance of herbicides. GM foods can also allow for reductions in food prices through improved yields and reliability.In the future, genetic modification could be aimed at altering the nutrient content of food, reducing its allergenic potential or improving the efficiency of food production systems. All GM foods should be assessed before being allowed on the market. FAO/WHO Codex guidelines exist for risk analysis of GM food.
All genetically modified foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and no effects on human health have been shown as a result of consuming GM foods. When discussing and developing GM foods, three main safety issues are considered. The first is allergenicity, meaning the ability of the edited genes or food product to cause an allergic reaction. No allergic effects have been found relative to GM foods currently on the market. The second is the transfer of genes from GM foods to the human digestive tract. The probability of transfer is low; however, the use of gene transfer technology that does not involve antibiotic resistance genes is encouraged. Third is outcrossing, meaning the transfer of genes from GM organisms to other species. Several countries have developed preventative strategies, including clear separation of GM and non-GM food crops.Each GM organism uses different genes and in different ways. Therefore, each GM food should be tested and their safety assessed on a case-by-case basis using international guidelines. The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization collaborate on the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which develops the standards, codes of practice, guidelines and recommendations concerning food, including GM products.